Friday, June 15, 2007

Thus Far in Vegetables.

I think it's time for a mid-term status report on the garden. I probably have a tendency to only report the disappointments, but there have been successes too, and not just of the "learning experience" variety.

The one little Thai chili plant is prolific. It's slowing down now, but I've already picked about 30 red chilies . They're tiny but potent. It only takes one of them to make a whole batch of red curry fiery hot, so I've been freezing most of them.

I picked two big poblanos yesterday. They were just starting to turn red. There's one more poblano coming along. That's three chilies from two plants, not a great record.

The two jalapeño plants are covered with dozens of peppers. They all appeared at about the same time, and they're ripe enough to pick but I want to see if they'll turn red. I used one last week in some salsa I made with tomatoes a friend brought over from her garden, and it was very hot for a jalapeño. Since there will be so many at once, we'll probably give a few away, and roast and freeze a bunch of them.

The bell peppers are nearly a bust. On six plants, there are only two peppers. The larger one is being eaten by worms. The smaller one seems okay, just small.

I picked two perfect cucumbers last week and made a cucumber salad. They were sweet and delicious. There are dozens more coming along on the vines which are creeping everywhere.

No fruit yet on the watermelon vines, but the plants are healthy and pretty.

The two peanut plants that survived are growing slowly and blossoming every once in a while, but no peanuts yet.

The green bean vines continue to produce a handful of pods every day. They're Blue Lake beans, and we've used them in salads mostly since the quantity is so small and it's nice to use them when they're very fresh. They're tender and very tasty.

One tomato plant has several green fruit and one that's almost all pink. I can't remember what kind of tomatoes they are, some heirloom variety. They look pretty good, but they're full of punctures from the leafrooted bugs, so I don't know how they'll taste. The other plant is full of little green pear-shaped fruit that, for some reason, don't tempt the bugs. I think it's a Roma.

The zinnias have slowed down, but the sunflowers are crazy. They're not the ones with huge flying saucer flowers; they're slightly smaller, in various shades of brown and yellow and white, with several blooms per plant.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

College and the Rollercoaster.

I walked over to the financial aid office at U.T. today. It's about a half-hour walk which starts out along and across pedestrian-unfriendly I-35. But most of the rest of it meanders through a pleasant part of campus, past my new favorite museum, the Blanton, and a stretch of academic buildings. It's very hot today, and I was hoping for some college boys playing frisbee with their shirts off, but I didn't find any. When I was in college (the first time) boys took their shirts off on hot days and played frisbee all afternoon. Do they still do that? If so, where?

The friendly, well-groomed young man behind the counter in the financial aid office looked me up on his computer and told me that my letter of appeal had been received and forwarded to the "woman who will either say yea or nay." No word yet; it should be a week or two. For some reason, I felt buoyed by that non-news. At least it's not a "no." I really would love to go to school in the fall.

I think I've found my equilibrium again today, after feeling out of sorts since Tuesday, when I was rejected from that drug trial. Friday is the day they post all the new trials, so I'll call tomorrow morning and try again. Even if I'm going to give up this drug trial nonsense and look for a job, it makes sense to do one more. I don't want to start a new job when I'm so far behind with the bills. And I can't make a decision about my future livelihood before I find out if I'm going to be able to enroll in school in the fall. So I'll try for another drug trial while I await word from "the woman."

I had a small epiphany this afternoon on my walk back home. You may get the impression from reading this blog that I worry quite a bit about money. But I worry so much less than I used to, and the worry I experience now is relatively mild. I used to worry myself sick. About money, and about almost everything. I had ups and downs, but the constant backdrop of all my joys and sorrows was a paralyzing anxiety.

About 6 years ago, at a time when just about everything I thought was solid in my life was disintegrating, I changed my attitude about money in a simple ritual involving a dollar bill, origami, and a campfire. Despite the fact that I had very little faith in the hocus-pocus (I was practically rolling my eyes), it worked. Not once since that night have I let myself feel the kind of deep despair I used to feel about being broke, in debt, and without prospects. Now I experience my financial insecurity in a more reasonable way. It's just something that comes and goes. Sometimes it demands more attention than other times, but it's temporary, and freaking out doesn't help.

And I've always had an acute fear of heights. But in the last 6 or 8 years, I've been tempting it, experimenting with it, pushing against it to see what happens. And I've found that I can often talk myself into experiencing that rush of fear as I approach a steep cliff, or look over a high-rise balcony, in a different way. Physically, fear is the same as exhilaration, so why not experience that rush as a thrill instead of terror? Little by little, I've been retraining myself out of my fear of heights.

I figured this out when I was wondering why, if I'm afraid of heights, I'm crazy about roller-coasters. The thrill of a roller-coaster ride is being forced to look right into my fear, knowing that the situation is controlled, that it isn't going to last forever, and that I'm not really in danger. There is a risk of harm, people do die in roller-coaster accidents, but once I'm strapped in, it's too late to do anything about it but surrender and enjoy it. If the thing is going to hurtle me head-first into the pavement, I'll have nothing to say about it. The moment when I make the decision to ride is separated from the moment of peril.

So it's about surrendering. I feel better when I have surrendered.

Back to my epiphany: as I was walking home from the financial aid office and thinking about how yesterday I was so strung out and today, after talking to the guy at the financial aid office and not really getting any news that should reassure me, somehow I felt much better, it struck me how arbitrary the anxiety is, how truly unconnected to anything real it is. And I remembered my fear of being broke, and my fear of heights, and how I have virtually talked myself out of those fears, and I realized that I could treat all fear the same way. I can decide to experience it differently. Instead of being afraid because the circumstances of my life seem so precarious, I can enjoy the thrill of it. Like a roller-coaster ride.

No money for the rent! OooooooooaaaaawaaaaaaAAAAH!!! Need new glasses desperately but can't afford them! eeeeeEEEEEEEAAAAAA!!! What the fuck am I going to do with the rest of my life??!! YyyaaaaaaAAAA!!!!!!

I think it's working.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Maybe the bug thing is getting to be an old saw. Sorry. But I can't not write about the 3-inch long cockroach that just crawled out from under a piece of paper on my desk a minute ago and scared the holy shit out of me.

In New York we called these things waterbugs. Roaches were the much smaller version, not so immediately, personally scary as their giant cousins, but much more disheartening because if you saw one you knew your kitchen cabinets would soon be crawling with them. Waterbugs, on the other hand, though filthy as rats, were usually just passing through.

But Texans will laugh at you if you call these creatures waterbugs. They're cockroaches. Or I've heard them called tree roaches, I guess because they live in trees, a thought I don't want to contemplate for too long just now, because I will have nightmares.

They have no unique name here for the little ones, except "little cockroaches." I haven't seen any of those around.

Bugs and Money.

I'm still battling those black bugs. Except now they're all grown up and have wings. They look extra super creepy now, and they buzz when they fly. They want those tomatoes bad.

I was all set for a drug trial starting this Thursday. I did the screening yesterday. The recruiter called me back to pee in a cup again today, but shortly after I got home, she called to say that the doctor excluded me because of my penicillin allergy. That has happened two or three times, even though they say at first that my penicillin allergy is not an issue with the particular drug, they change their minds at the last minute.

What next? I've been trying to do one of these studies since April. This is the fourth study I've been rejected by, and each time I go through this process and don't get in the study I'm set back a few weeks. I'm way behind with the bills.

I think I'll go to the financial aid office at U.T. this week and try to find out if I'm going to be starting school in the fall. Knowing about that will give some structure to the money miasma. I'm leaning toward looking for a job, because I crave at least a hint of routine. But what kind of job?

I was talking about my predicament to J's friend C who is here visiting us for a few days. She asked if I'd considered construction. I said that I would rather be one of those guys who begs for change at the intersection than do construction. If I'm going to be outside in the heat all day, I don't want to have to do anything physical. If I have to get a job, I want a job where they leave you alone and just give you the money.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I just got a check from the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists for $596.70. They were holding it in trust for me, and apparently would have held it forever if my mother hadn't happened to google my name just for the fun of it and found my name on a list of performers owed money. AFTRA didn't know my whereabouts, which is not surprising since I'm not a member of AFTRA.

The money is residuals for an appearance J and I made on an episode of Premium Blend, a show on Comedy Central, in 1998, which they have rerun every summer since. Beats me why this money was sent to AFTRA, a union with which we've never had any affiliation. And why are we being paid residuals for 2005 and 2006 (that's what the check stub says) and not for 1999-2004?

We still get a check for about $13 every year from BMI for this TV appearance. BMI is the organization that collects (some would say extorts) money from radio and TV stations, restaurants, theaters, and other venues that broadcast recorded music and distributes it to the writers and publishers of the songs according to an arcane mathematical formula. That thirteen dollars represents our share of money paid by Viacom (who owns Comedy Central) in royalties to BMI for permission to broadcast songs written by BMI artists. We sometimes get an extra couple bucks every year for radio play in various Eastern European or Scandinavian countries.

Whatever. The check could not have come at a better time, and I'm grateful.

It's a big fucking mess, the way artists get paid (or not, usually) in this country. But I shouldn't complain; I'm usually an advocate of pulling down the whole "intellectual property" paradigm. As soon as I deposit this check, I'm going right back to that stance.

Summer Cold Index.

I'm completely off any kind of schedule these days. Somehow it just hasn't seemed necessary. What that means is that it hasn't seemed necessary to get anything done. It's just been a strange, not unpleasant sense of whirling into the increasingly dimly-lit future.

I'm waiting to hear from UT about financial aid, which news will determine whether or not I start school in the fall. I'm still trying to get into a drug study. (I just started the screening process for another one today. Cross your fingers. The most alarming side effect of this particular drug was (rarely) bleeding of the mucus membranes surrounding the eyes. Sounds pretty, doesn't it? The drug is being developed to treat restless leg syndrome, which I have. Unfortunately, these are safety trials, not efficacy trials, so I won't get enough of the drug to treat the condition.) And I'm in between drafts of my screenplay. If I get into this trial, or any trial soon, I'll use my time in the lockup to start rewriting.

The heat has simultaneously tranquilized me and awoken me to the fact that I'm not doing anything. (Possibly similar to what I imagine it's like for people who are executed by lethal injection, where the first drug they're given immobilizes them, making them unable to react but no less aware of the fact that the second drug is excruciatingly painful. I said possibly.) I don't believe that doing nothing is a bad thing. In fact, I think it's a pretty good thing. The only drawback is that it's habit-forming. I put it in the same category as pot-smoking. They have definite benefits, but maybe not every day.

Thursday night, my throat started to feel kind of ack-ack, and I woke up Friday with a full-on sore throat. It hurt, my tonsils were big, red, and shiny, but I was relieved to see no white spots. (White spots on my tonsils almost always mean that I'm going to have to find a doctor and get some antibiotics, which is a pain in the ass and an expense I can't afford. Not only that, it would fuck up my ability to do the drug study I screened for today.)

But ... no white spots. Just a sore throat.

I was ready to call Z and cancel on his birthday dinner Friday night, but I got such a sweet email from him in the early afternoon, telling me how much it meant to him that I was coming, I couldn't disappoint him. I bucked up.

A big group of his friends had arranged to treat him to dinner at Austin Land & Cattle Co. (a famous local steakhouse -- Z's choice). Z wanted me to be there, and he knew I couldn't afford it, so he told me he would pay for my share. I felt very embarrassed (the whole idea of such a thing is that your friends pay) and guilty (he took me out for such a nice dinner on my birthday a couple months ago) and touched that he would want that badly for me to be there. (He had arranged in advance for a friend to chip in for two when the bill came, to cover my share without making it an issue at the table. I was so moved by that.)

His friends are a diverse group of colleagues, former neighbors, old drinking buddies. And they're all crazy about him, of course. He's one of those men you meet and think "Why is this guy single?" He says he's very picky about men. He's picky about a lot of things. Maybe he's too cantankerous for most guys. But is that a flaw? I don't think I would want to spend much time with someone who considered cantankerousness a flaw. Or maybe he's too honest. I don't know. I do know that if I were anywhere near the mood to fall in love, this would be the guy.

Dinner was great, very lively. I had a beautiful, perfectly done steak, the first steak I've had since I was cooking them myself at the restaurant in Utah. Afterwards, we drove back to his house, he parked, and we walked to La Dolce Vita for gelato (I had coconut and chocolate) and then took a very long walk home around his new neighborhood. It was super-muggy that night. We held hands.

Saturday I woke up with a real live summer cold. I felt miserable, and I didn't do much but read and nap all day. I missed J's performance in the gay pride thingie in Zilker Park in the afternoon.

I caved on my a/c rule. It has not reached 100 degrees. I think the highest it's gotten is 96. But the Summer Cold Index was at least 102. However, I made a welcome discovery. My window unit is really much too big for the room. I can turn it on, at the lowest setting, for about half an hour, turn it off and my room stays comfortable for a few hours. So I feel slightly less guilty about my consumption, and slightly less anxious about the summer utility bills.